Anglican Church priest arrested for series of sex crimes committed during time with Fresno church

Jason Oliveira Image
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Fresno Police arrest Anglican Church priest for series of sex crimes
Jesus Antonio Castaneda Serna was arrested early Sunday at the Central Fresno church he started -- Holy Spirit.

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FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno Police have arrested an Anglican Church priest for a series of sex crimes during his more than a decade with the local church.

Jesus Antonio Castaneda Serna was arrested early Sunday at the Central Fresno church he started -- Holy Spirit.

22 parishioners have come forward to say they'd been victimized by the Anglican Priest but according to police many of the victims are undocumented and afraid to report the crimes to law enforcement.

Click here for the Spanish version of the story.

"He would be facing a maximum of 11 years and six months. That's why is so important for others to come forward and talk to law enforcement," said District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp.

The arrest comes after a 13-month investigation. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyers believes the sex crimes date back years and could have hundreds of victims

"It's our hope that as we progress that we'll be able to interview all of the 22 victims and we hope other people to come forward," said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.

Serna served from 2007 until 2017 at Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Church, which gave Spanish-speaking services at St. Mary's on Kings Canyon.

That's when investigators believe many of the sex crimes took place.

Two victims did speak to detectives and say Serna would invite them to his Shaw Avenue office where he would perform what he called a "healing ritual" that involved a massage table, oils and would then turn into sexual contact.

The two male adult victims said Serna told them the repeated rituals would remove a curse or earn them forgiveness for their sins.

"He used his position as a religious leader to convince these victims to be spiritually right with God," Dyer said.

The Anglican Bishop reported Serna, also known as Father Castaneda, to police after he was made aware of the abuse allegations.

The Diocese of San Joaquin declined to go on camera but did release this statement, saying in part:

On November 24, 2017, Castañeda informed the bishop he would not contest the accusations, and he consented to be deposed from priestly ministry in the Anglican Church. Castañeda was then stripped of all priestly roles, privileges, and standing, and Bishop Menees began lending day-to-day pastoral care and oversight to Castañeda's former congregation."

Detectives dug into Serna's history and found he came to Fresno from Washington state, where he was a Catholic priest from 1997 to 2006 at St. Juan Diego in the town of Cowiche.

He was deposed for "violating the seal of the confessional," according to the Monsignor of the Yakima diocese, who also told detectives a parishioner later came forward to say Serna sexually assaulted him. The alleged victim also didn't want to come forward as a victim to law enforcement.

The Fresno County District Attorney's office filed eight felony and two misdemeanor charges against Serna on Friday. Police arrested him Sunday, but he bailed out early Monday morning.